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The Accidental President of Brazil: A Memoir

The Accidental President of Brazil: A Memoir

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by Fernando Henrique Cardoso

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Fernando Henrique Cardoso received a phone call in the middle of the night asking him to be the new Finance Minister of Brazil. As he put the phone down and stared into the darkness of his hotel room, he feared he'd been handed a political death sentence. The year was 1993, and he would be responsible for an economy that had had seven different currencies in the


Fernando Henrique Cardoso received a phone call in the middle of the night asking him to be the new Finance Minister of Brazil. As he put the phone down and stared into the darkness of his hotel room, he feared he'd been handed a political death sentence. The year was 1993, and he would be responsible for an economy that had had seven different currencies in the previous eight years to cope with inflation that had run at 3000 percent a year. Brazil had a habit of chewing up finance ministers with the ferocity of an Amazon piranha.

This was just one of the turns in a largely unscripted and sometimes unwanted political career. In exile during the harshest period of the junta that ruled Brazil for twenty years, Cardoso started his political life with a tentative run for the Federal Senate in 1978. Within fifteen years, and despite himself, this former sociologist was running the country.

And what a country! Brazil, it is often said, is on the edge of modernity, striding with one foot in mid-air towards the future, the other still rooted deep in a traditional past. It is a land of sophisticated music and brutal gold-digging, of the next global superpower and the last old-time coffee plantations. It is gloriously ungovernable, irrepressibly attractive, and home to the family, friends and extraordinary life of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. This is his story and his love song to his country.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
"Honest, personable, and engaging"
Foreign Affairs
In this most engaging and very personal history of twentieth-century Brazil, a genuine philosopher-king recounts how he combined principle and pragmatism to transform a harsh military dictatorship into a hopeful, modern democracy. Targeting a general audience, the two-term president paints colorful vignettes of his mercurial, irresponsible predecessors to explain Brazil's earlier democratic breakdowns — and to underscore the errors he would avoid repeating. A former sociology professor, Cardoso argues that he kept faith with his empiricist training and social-justice agenda, even as his views evolved on how best to accomplish his goals. His youthful radicalism — he once rode in a car transporting guns to underground guerrillas — was a reaction to the stark injustices of the times. The mature Cardoso, a committed democrat, is impatient with some leftists' refusal to accept the exigencies and recognize the benefits of the global marketplace. What emerges is the self-portrait of a well-bred, charming, disciplined, and smartly networked political realist — not at all an "accidental" president. Cardoso offers a brief review of his administration's major economic and social achievements (cumulatively, these reforms eroded his domestic popularity), but surprisingly, he says rather little about foreign policy, other than to express profound admiration for Bill Clinton and distaste for George W. Bush. Readers with even a passing curiosity about Brazil will enjoy — and all aspiring Latin American politicians should study — this rare "lessons learned" memoir by one of the foremost statesmen of our times.
Library Journal
This memoir from former two-term Brazilian president (1995-2003) Cardoso provides rare insight into political developments in Brazil in the last half of the 20th century. This engaging work describes how Cardoso's experiences of coups during his youth and of exile when, as a university professor of sociology, he fell out of favor with the military leadership, motivated him to enter politics as a centrist moderate liberal. Cardoso describes how the lives of all Brazilians, regardless of wealth and political affiliation, were undoubtedly impacted by the country's recent history. Importantly, he addresses numerous timely topics, such as national debt, urbanization, slavery, racism, social inequalities, and free trade. Overall, this is a candid memoir about Cardoso's successes (replacing a military dictatorship, curbing hyperflation) and failures (his problematic relationship with his successor). While this work does not include a detailed time line of the political history of Brazil and is clearly biased by Cardoso's perspective, it provides a context for studying Brazil's political evolution in recent years and will be particularly useful for public and undergraduate libraries.-Kristin Whitehair, Kansas State Libs., Manhattan Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Meet the Author

Fernando Henrique Cardoso was President of the Federative Republic of Brazil for two consecutive terms, from January 1995 to December 2002. Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1931, he is married, with three children, and lives in São Paulo.

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The Accidental President of Brazil 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book by Fernado Henrique was a wonderful read. He has a very appealing style in his writing and it absorbs the reader even during times of what can seem like boring information. Fernando Henrique did a wondderful job of telling the story behind Brazil's history and politics, especially the policies and problems that have plagued each adminsitration over their brief history. He wasn't afraid to criticize himself and offered a lot of valuable opinions about the current state and future of this gov't. Being married to a brazilian gave me ensight to the opinions of the citizens during his time of presidency. It was a very unstable time and most brazilians were very skeptical of anohter politician making promises that would go unfilled. He managed to implement another currency change that actually worked and he insituted some much need changes in the way gov't operated. Not enough has been done to address the education problem, nor the overunning favelahs. Fernando Henrique offered an excellent opinion on the favalehs and their root causes, but he didn't do enough as president to fix them. He cannot bear that blame alone since this has plagued Brazil for decades. Unlike Lula, he took his share of the blame and didn't pass it onto other people as the problem. I have now begun reading about Dom Pedro II, the first brazilian born emporer after reading Fernado Henriques explanation of its early form of gov't.